Techniques used in early medieval Irish poetry

This almost all comes from Early Celtic Versecraft. This book is not about teaching the techniques, but rather an argument about how they came about and how they related to similar Welsh forms. So I may have misunderstood some of this --. and the Old Irish translations are pretty doubtful on my part --.but at least it's a beginning. (Though if someone would bring out a translation of all those poetic treatises, it would be really helpful. Hint, hint!)


Here is part of the oldest poem in Old Irish for which we know a definite date: "Amra Choluim Chille", an elegy for St. Columcille written by his friend, Dallan Forgaill, the rig-ollam of Ireland, after Columcille's death c. AD 597. This kind of poem is called an amra. This part of the amra demonstrates the technique reicne dechubaid: sequences of 2 or 3 alliterating words separated by one word which doesn't alliterate.
 
Ni disceoil duae Neill. Ni uchtat oenmaige mor mairg. Mor deilm ndiulaing ris re asneid Colum cen bith cen chill. Coi india dui do sceo Nera. In faith De de De Sion sudioth is nu nad mair. Ni marthar lend. Ni less anma ar sui ardoncondiath.

Here is a poem you've probably read in English: Amergin's invocation of Ireland.
It demonstrates conachlonn: repeating the last word of one line as the first word of another.
(I'm not sure who did this translation; I found it, unattributed, on the Web.)
 
Ailim iath n-erend
Ermac muir motach
Motach sliab sreatach
Sreatach coill ciotach
Ciotach ab eascach
Easach loc lindmar
Lindmar tor tiopra
Tiopra tuath aenach
Aenach righ teamra
Teamair tor tuatach
Tuata mac milead
Mile long libearn
Libearn ard Ere
Ere ard diclass
Eber dond digbas
Diceadal ro gaet
Ro gaet ban breissi
Breissi ban buaich
[Be nadbail heriu]
Herimon or tus [hir]
hir Eber ailseas
Ailim iath n-erend 
I invoke the land of Eire: 
much coursed by the fertile sea. 
Fertile is the fruit-strewn mountain 
fruit strewn by the showery wood showery is the river of waterfalls 
of waterfalls by the lake of deep pools deep is the hill-top well 
a well of tribes is the assembly 
an assembly of the kings is Tara 
Tara of the hill of the tribes 
the tribes of the sons of Mil 
of Mil of the ships - 
Like a lofty ship is the land of Eire 
lofty land of Eire darkly sung 
dark Eberís incantation 
an incantation of great cunning 
the great cunning of the wives of Bres 
the wives of Bres of Buaigne 
but the great Eire - 
Eremon has conquered her. 
I, Amairgen, have invoked for her. 
I invoke the land of Eire. 
 

"The first satire made in Ireland", from the story of the 2nd Battle of Mag Tuireadh.
This uses a little bit of rhyme, but mostly uaim, amus, and uaithne.
 

Cen cholt for crib cernini,
Without food quickly on a dish,
cen gert ferbba fora n-asa aithrinni,
without cow's milk on which a calf thrives,
cen adba fir iar ndruba disoirchi,
without a man's dwelling after the staying of darkness,
cen dil daimi rissi,
without a storyteller band's payment,
ro sain Brisse.
so be Bres.

A 'poem to raise blisters' from Cormac's Glossary:
Maile baire gaire Caieur
Evil, death, short life to Caier
combeodutar celtra cath Caier
May battle spears slay Caier
Caier diba Caier dira Caier foro
Caier by land, Caier by earth, Caier rejected
fomara fochara Caier.
Under mound, under rocks, Caier.

Here's the monk's poem about himself and his cat, White Pangur. It uses rhyme as well as uaim, amus and uaithne. It is probably a few centuries later than the previous examples.
 
Messe ocus Pangur Bán,
cechtar nathar fri saindán:
bíth a menma-sam fri seilgg,
mu menma céin im saincheirdd 

Caraim-se fos, ferr cach clú,
oc mu lebrán, léir ingnu;
ní foirmtech frimm Pangur Bán:
caraid cesin a maccdán. 
 

Ó ru biam, scél cen scís,
innar tegdais, ar n-óendís,
táithiunn, díchríchide clius,
ní fris tarddam ar n-áthius. 
 

Gnáth, h-úaraib, ar gressaib gal
glenaid luch inna línsam;
os mé, du-fuit im lín chéin
dliged n-doraid cu n-dronchéill. 

Fúaichaid-sem fri frega fál
a rosc, a n-glése comlán;
fúachimm chéin fri fégi fis
mu rosc réil, cesu imdis. 

Fáelid-sem cu n-déne dul
hi n-glen luch inna gérchrub;
hi tucu cheist n-doraid n-dil
os mé chene am fáelid. 

Cia beimmi a-min nach ré
ní derban cách a chéle:
maith la cechtar nár a dán;
subaigthius a óenurán. 

h-É fesin as choimsid dáu
in muid du-ngní cach óenláu;
du thabairt doraid du glé
for mo mud céin am messe. 

Myself and White Pangur,
each of us two at his own art --
his mind on hunting,
mine on my subject. 

I love better than all fame 
to be quiet beside my book, persistent of inquiry;
not jealous is White Pangur,
he loves his student art. 

When we two are (story without boredom)
in our house, alone,
we each have -- endless sport --
something to apply our skill to. 

Usually, at times, after feats of valor,
a mouse is caught in his net;
as for me, into my net falls
some difficult point of meaning. 

He directs against an enclosing wall
his eye, bright and perfect;
against sharpness of knowledge
my clear eye, though weak. 

He is joyful with fast movement
when a mouse is caught in his sharp claw; when I grasp a lovely, difficult question
I am also joyful. 

Though we are always so,
neither bothers his companion:
good for each his own craft,
rejoicing in his alone. 

He is his own master
in the work he does each day;
making difficult things clear,
I can perform my task myself. 


echraid: "riding". This form uses alliteration within the stanza but rhymes the final lines of each one.
 
Bairre breo bithbuadach
buaid betha brethadbuil
rithen reil rathamra
ruithniges Ebermagu
lia luagmar lainnerda
ni luad nach liuin.
Eo orda ilchrothach
uaisliu cach cain chumdach
aire ard ollairbrech
ernes cach n-olladhaic
do buidnic balc Banba
barr Brogha Briuin.

A similar poem to St. Brigid:
 
Brigit búadach,
Búaid na fine,
Siur Ríg nime,
Nár in duine,
Eslind luige,
Lethan breo.
Ro-siacht noíbnem
Mumme Goídel,
Riar na n-óiged,
Oíbel ecnai,
Ingen Dubthaig,
Duine úallach,
Brigit búadach,
Bethad beo. 
Victorious Brigit,
Glory of kin,
King of Heaven's sister,
Noble person,
Dangerous oath [for false swearers],
Far-rising flame --
Holy Heaven she reached --
Fostermother of the Gael,
Support of the strangers,
Wisdom's spark,
Dubthach's daughter,
High-minded person,
Victorious Brigit,
Life's living one. 
Back to the poetry information index
Stop me before I err again -- mail your comments and corrections to mobrien@dnaco.net
This page belongs here. It is copy-permitted.